One often-overlooked aspect of estate planning is the family meeting. Family meetings are important to the estate planning process because they allow you to communicate your wishes to your loved ones while you are capable of doing so. Transparency with your family is vital in order to lessen any surprises to them after your death, to reduce or eliminate fighting between your beneficiaries, and to explain any steps you have taken and the reasons for those steps. A meeting can also be a good time to resolve any conflict between your family members and to set general expectations about the distribution of your assets as well as any decisions you have made about your end-of-life care. If possible, it is best to schedule a family meeting when you are in good health, and after your estate planning documents have already been signed.
A well-planned family meeting will allow everyone to have access to the same information at once and will give family members a chance to ask questions to better understand your wishes and their roles after your death. You may wish to have a neutral third party such as your estate planning attorney present if you feel that there may be potential conflict needing to be resolved. Your attorney may also be able to better explain the legal documents that you will be discussing.
Documents for Estate Planning Family Meeting
Some of the documents that your family will need to know about include your advance healthcare directives, such as your healthcare power of attorney, living will, and/or do-not-resuscitate order. This will let them know who you have authorized to make healthcare decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. Since this is a difficult topic and discussion could become emotional, it may be wise to cover this at the beginning of your meeting, while everyone is calm and emotions are under control. Try to keep the tone of the meeting positive as well. Remember – while the conversation may be uncomfortable, the long term peace of mind you are hoping to achieve for everyone involved will make the conversation worthwhile.
Other items to discuss with your family are how you have structured your estate, your will, and any trusts that you have created. The family meeting is a perfect time to potentially disclose your assets to your family members, as well as address any nonfinancial assets. Your family may have sentimental items they would like to request. Some people choose to make lists of these requests to include in their wills.
How to Plan Your Estate Family Meeting
1. Create An Agenda
Decide what you need to discuss and in what order to discuss it.
2. Decide Who to Invite
Next, decide who to invite – usually, any fiduciaries, children, and sometimes grandchildren. Take into consideration that holding two meetings may be necessary if you have a blended family and your plan is to keep assets separate. It may be helpful to get input from your estate planning attorney about who should be at your family meeting and what documents people will need to see.
3. Announce the Meeting to Invitees
After your preliminary planning is finished, announce the meeting to your invitees. Try to announce the meeting in a way that does not create any alarm – for instance, letting your invitees know that you are in good health and that a family meeting is a normal part of estate planning will help to alleviate their worries. Make sure that you make the reason for the meeting clear so that everyone can be emotionally prepared and nobody is blindsided by the topics you will discuss. If possible, try to schedule the meeting as its own event, and not on a holiday or a day that may be significant to someone in your family, such as a birthday. While your goal should be for everyone to have a positive experience, if conflict does take place, it would be best not to create negative memories on a special day.
4. Host the Meeting
When you sit down with your family to hold the meeting, make sure to follow the agenda you have created so that you discuss everything that you want to. After your initial meeting, you may need to hold follow-up meetings, especially if you make any changes to your legal documents after a birth or death in the family. You may also want to encourage your family members to create their own estate plans.
If you want to make sure that your estate is properly planned, your assets are accounted for, and your loved ones are properly prepared to carry out your wishes, please Contact Bill Hesch, attorney, CPA, and financial planner today.
Bill Hesch is a CPA, PFS (Personal Financial Specialist), and attorney licensed in Ohio and Kentucky who helps clients with their financial and estate planning. He also practices elder law, corporate law, Medicaid planning, tax law, and probate in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas. His practice area includes Hamilton County, Butler County, Warren County, and Clermont County in Ohio, and Campbell County, Kenton County, and Boone County in Kentucky.
(Legal Disclaimer: Bill Hesch submits this blog to provide general information about the firm and its services. Information in this blog is not intended as legal advice, and any person receiving information on this page should not act on it without consulting professional legal counsel. While at times Bill Hesch may render an opinion, Bill Hesch does not offer legal advice through this blog. Bill Hesch does not enter into an attorney-client relationship with any online reader via online contact.)